Campaigning for peace and development: Myrna’s story

Myrna Masukat lives in Baseco, one of the biggest slum areas in Manila, Philippines and is campaigning to bring autonomy, peace and development to her community.

Myrna was an intern with International Alert’s Polis Programme, which aimed to address Muslim exclusion and discrimination, and strengthen political leadership of Moro women and youth. Along with other interns, Myrna was placed in the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives to deepen their understanding of political processes and develop concrete actions to strengthen youth participation in politics.

She is also part of the advocacy and campaign team of United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD), a grassroots organisation that aims to nurture young leaders who give spiritual, political, and socio-economic services to society.

Increasing opportunities for women

"In our community, most of the women stay at home and resort to gossip to pass the time. Many are also involved in illegal activities and have resorted to drug peddling. I wanted to change this. In the broader context, I wanted Muslim people, especially Muslim women to be accepted in a Christian-dominated society and given economic opportunities that can lift us out of poverty.

I am the Secretary of Ummahat, a group of mothers in the area. As part of Ummahat, I helped to set up and maintain three madaris or religious schools that teach Arabic and the Islamic way of life and values to women and children. This year, Alert provided me with scholarship assistance to gain business management skills in order to help me set up a livelihood cooperative that will sustain these community-run madaris."

I dream of more education and economic opportunities for women, I dream of a peaceful and happy life for all families.

Bangsamoro peace process

"I was inspired by Madame Fatmawati Salapuddin, who is Commissioner of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos. I really like her warrior spirit. During our internship with Alert, she, along with other Alert staff, taught us how to navigate the legislative process more effectively. She pointed out things that we had been doing wrong as a group and that there are other effective ways of negotiation than shouting at the top of our lungs and expressing our anger and demands. Because of our internship, I gained enough confidence and the right set of skills to speak to influential people in the halls of power.

With these skills and being part of UNYPAD, I now actively lobby for the passing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which will bring real autonomy, peace, and development to Muslim Mindanao.

To help the peace process, I distribute flyers and conduct orientations about peacebuilding. I ask other mothers to come with me to Congress so that our voices are heard.

"When we mobilise and hold rallies, when we lobby with lawmakers, we are made more aware of the issues that women, especially Muslim women, face. Even if many of us were not able to study, we become educated and empowered this way.

With the passing of the Bangsamoro legislation, we hope that the rights of the Bangsamoro people are finally recognised. This will also pave the way for more job opportunities in Muslim Mindanao, so that families who were displaced because of the conflict there and came to Baseco and other urban areas can return and lead peaceful lives. Hopefully, this will also help Filipinos recognise us Muslim women and let us wear our hijab and practice our faith without discrimination."

Overcoming obstacles

"My experience in grassroots community organising, advocacy and lobbying expanded my perspective and deepened my understanding. Before, I did not care about anything or anyone. I was content just staying at home and tending to my family. Now, after interacting with so many people within my community and attending trainings and seminars outside, I developed deep concern and compassion for the people. Everything changed.

I encounter many challenges. You will not please everybody, and some people will oppose what you do. When some people raise their eyebrows at me and say unfavorable things, because I am an active woman leader in the community, I may cry privately at home if I need to but I take everything in my stride."

I remain strong in my conviction to continue my work for the well-being of families here in Baseco.

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Photos: © Diana Moraleda/International Alert